Jerusalem (CNN)Israel has slammed a vote by UNESCO declaring the Old City of Hebron an endangered Palestinian World Heritage site, pledging to reduce its funding to the UN.
Israel reduces UN funding after Hebron shrine declared Palestinian
Hebron's Old City is home to one of the region's most contested places: the Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as the Ibrahimi Mosque. It is regarded as sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The decision by the UN's cultural agency, at a meeting in Poland by secret ballot, saw 12 countries vote in favor, with three against and six abstentions.
Israel has accused UNESCO of making a politically motivated move, part of what it says is an attempt to deny the Jewish character and heritage of certain key sites in the Holy Land.
Israeli Government Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the right wing Jewish Home Party, called it a "disgraceful vote."
"The Jewish connection to Hebron goes back thousands of years," said Bennett. "It's disappointing and disgraceful that time and again UNESCO denies history and distorts reality, knowingly serving those attempting to erase the Jewish state."
The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement it would be reducing Israel's funding to the United Nations by one million dollars so that it could build a museum in the town.
Hebron is located in the West Bank, about 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem, and is home to roughly 215,000 Palestinians and hundreds of Israeli settlers, according to the United Nations.
The city is divided, in accordance with international agreements, between Palestinian and Israeli control. Israel's army controls access to the Cave of the Patriarchs.
The UNESCO resolution had been pushed hard by the Palestinians, who succeeded not only in getting Hebron declared a Palestinian heritage site, but also in getting the UN body to declare that Israel's occupation was placing it in danger.
Promoting the resolution, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had argued: "Hebron's Old City and holy site is under threat due to [the] irresponsible, illegal and highly damaging actions of Israel, the occupying power."
The director of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Sheikh Hefzi Abu Zneneh hailed the decision.
"We praise this vote at UNESCO, which considers the Old City of Hebron and its heart, the Ibrahimi Mosque, as Palestinian cultural heritage," Abu Zneneh told CNN.
"This place is a historical one with Islamic roots in the ancient times, the present time, and it will stay the same in the future, despite the occupation's attempts to change all realities on the ground."
The United States had worked strongly to prevent the decision. It has taken a tougher line under the Trump administration against what it says is anti-Israel bias among certain UN organizations. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley had said passing the vote on Hebron would have "unfortunate" repercussions for the peace process.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam hold the Cave of the Patriarchs to be sacred, as it is believed to be home to the bones of the biblical figure Abraham and members of his family, according to the Book of Genesis.
Foundation stones dating back 2,000 years to the time of King Herod compose the base of the structure, which is divided into two sections, one for Jews and another for Muslims.
The tomb has traded hands many times over the centuries, variously under the control of the Romans, Arab rulers, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, and the British. By the 20th century, access had been restricted to Muslims only, until Israel captured the city during the Six Day War in 1967.
Much of the surrounding area in the Old City is made up of old stone buildings and narrow alleyways dating back to the Mamluk Period around the 13th and 14th centuries.
This is the third location in what most of the international community regards as occupied territory to be designated a Palestinian World Heritage site by UNESCO, after the Church of Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route in Bethlehem, and what UNESCO calls the "cultural landscape of southern Jerusalem."